Suthep: The man who leads Bangkok’s mobs
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Suthep: The man who leads Bangkok’s mobs

Protest leader seeks to divert attention from his own crimes, writes Asia Sentinel’s Pavin Chachavalpongpun

Suthep Thaugsuban, Thailand’s current mob leader, has reinvented himself from villain to national hero, at least in the eyes of his supporters, because he has dared to challenge what is characterized as the evil regime of the Yingluck government, backed by the long-ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

The entire planet must know who Thaksin is: Thailand’s most popular prime minister since the abolition of absolute monarchy in 1932. But for Suthep, he has earned the title of villain. Suthep was serving as deputy prime minister in the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration in charge of launching deadly crackdowns on red-shirt demonstrators in 2010, leading to more than 90 people being killed, most of them protesters, and more than 2,000 injured.

Today Suthep is leading anti-government forces to bring down the elected Pheu Thai government, just as his party—the Democrats—helped the yellow-shirted People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) remove the Thaksin government from power in 2006. Starting off with a protest against the government-initiated amnesty bill which could potentially free Thaksin from his corruption charges and more importantly and ironically pardon those behind the May 10, 2010 killings of the Red Shirts at the Rachaprasong area of Bangkok, Suthep’s determination to topple the Yingluck regime is unwavering.

But the legitimacy behind Suthep’s street mobs evaporated following the government’s forced willingness to put the controversial bill back on the shelf. Suddenly, Suthep lacked valid reasons that could be used against the government. The reinterpretation of the 1962 International Court of Justice verdict on the Preah Vihear Temple dispute failed to ignite nationalist sentiment. Without any credible motivation, Suthep returned to the old tricks, exploiting the ghosts of Thai politics in defying the government.

One is to continue to condemn the “Thaksin regime” as the sole source of today’s political crisis. In painting a picture of Thaksin as the enemy of the state, it provides Suthep with justification for his street protests which can now be perceived as necessary and moral.

The other is to drag the monarchy into the political mess once again. Fighting against the Yingluck government and Thaksin together is now equated with the protection of the royal institution. This kind of political game, which draws the political fault line at the monarchy, is dangerous. The massacre at Thammasat University in the 1970s, in which as many as 100 students were murdered and others were beaten and brutalized, demonstrated how the manipulation of the monarchy ended up in political violence.

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